This evening in Canberra, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced a major review into how politicians can claim travel and other parliamentary expenses, amid a growing scandal engulfing his government.
In a brief press conference, Abbott announced the resignation of the Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop after she claimed more than $5,000 for a private helicopter charter flight to a Liberal Party fundraiser to Geelong in Victoria, and has stonewalled journalists over additional claims she spent $6,000 on a private jet to Nowra on the NSW south coast.
Abbott announced the entire parliamentary entitlements system would be up for review, and he appointed two distinguished men to the role – former Secretary of the Department of Finance, David Tune, and Chair of the Remuneration Tribunal, John Conde.
The men will co-chair a committee “to examine how best to deliver a more independent system”.
Tune has served a long and successful career in the public service, retiring in May 2014 as Secretary of the Department of Finance and Deregulation. He had an unblemished career, notable ‘scandal-wise’ only for being forced as the departmental head to sign off on vulgar ALP advertising during the caretaker period prior to the last election (which sought to warn asylum seekers against travelling to Australia).
Conde is a distinguished Australian businessman, and has served on some of the nation’s most prestigious boards, including BHP and the Heart Foundation.
But he’s also served on some of the more controversial.
Conde was the chairman of Radio 2UE at the height of the John Laws and Alan Jones ‘cash for comment’ scandal.
More recently, he’s found himself as deputy chairman of Whitehaven Coal, a company digging up vast reserves of the black stuff in a sensitive area of the Leard State Forest in the north west of NSW. The chair of Whitehaven is former Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaille.
You’ll remember Whitehaven Coal from Thom Mitchell’s reporting in New Matilda this year and last, when he revealed the company had a ‘phantom environmentalist’ serving on a community consultation panel associated with the Maules Creek coal mine. The company then lied about why, more than a year after the scandal was exposed, it still hadn’t filled the key position.
There’s no suggestion, of course, that Conde was in anyway aware of Whitehaven Coal’s misconduct at the time.
But as deputy chairman, he most certainly must be aware of it now, not least of all because the mining company was fined for it. And for this… earlier this year Whitehaven Coal was found to have exceeded its annual quota for the removal of coal from their Liverpool Plains operations by a whopping 150,000 tonnes.
The company was hit with a $15,000 fine for the license breach… which represents about 0.2 percent of the additional revenue they earned from the coal (about $8 million).
Conde and Tune are expected to report in early 2016.
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